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The Serial Killer Behind Trump's Tweets About Germany

The Daily Beast logo The Daily Beast 20/01/2019 By Josephine Huetlin
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast © Provided by The Daily Beast Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

OLDENBURG, Germany — He’d been sitting in his little apartment in northwestern Germany for quite a while bombed out on painkillers, then he went to work at the hospital -- injecting a 61-year-old woman who had recently awakened from an artificial coma with an overdose of heart medication.

The woman was on her way to recovering and had recently bought a car. She wasn’t ready to die. Later that night he called her daughter to tell her: “Your mother’s circulation is unstable.” The daughter rushed to the hospital, but by then her mother had passed.

Niels Högel, the nurse, is now suspected of killing more than 200 patients at the hospitals where he worked between the years 1999 and 2005, when he was first arrested for an attempted murder.

News of that first case raised suspicions about others, but investigations were agonizingly slow. There were a succession of trials over the course of 13 years, and in each one he lied, acknowledging some killings and boasting about more. In the most recent courtroom drama, he is accused of murdering 100, and has confessed to all but five of those cases.

Part of Niels Högel wanted credit for saving the people he nearly killed. But it didn’t always work, and he didn’t really care.

The heart medication that Niels Högel used most frequently to force his patients into cardiac arrest was ajmaline. People given an overdose might feel dizzy and a fluttering sensation in their neck. Their heart begins to stutter, they struggle to breathe and lose consciousness. “As if you are in the water and drowning,” is how one doctor described it.

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But for Högel, now 42 years old, the thrill of grabbing the defibrillator to make a dying patient’s heart beat again was a “kick,” or so he has claimed. And when he succeeded in appearing calmly to save a life, it was like “standing on a pedestal.” In the first hospital he worked, his colleagues even made him a necklace of catheters for being their “reanimation champion.”

A former head nurse testified that when she complained to the intensive care ward’s chief doctor that Högel did not have a good bedside manner, that doctor snapped at her, “You’re just jealous of him.”

Last month here in the northwestern city of Oldenburg, Högel testified in a pop-up courtroom in a concert hall, the only venue big enough to accomodate a crowd of the victims’ relatives. Several came to see this man who had, according to a fellow inmate, referred to their aged or ailing loved ones as “rotten wrappers.”

03 January 2019, Lower Saxony, Oldenburg: Niels Högel, accused of murdering 100 patients, is sitting in the courtroom on the day of the trial with his eyes closed and his hand on his face. Photo: Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/dpa (Photo by Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/picture alliance via Getty Images) © Copyright 2019, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten 03 January 2019, Lower Saxony, Oldenburg: Niels Högel, accused of murdering 100 patients, is sitting in the courtroom on the day of the trial with his eyes closed and his hand on his face. Photo: Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/dpa (Photo by Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Högel’s first arrest came when he was discovered next to a switched off infusion pump in 2005. Ever since, Högel has lied to authorities about the scope of his evil deeds. Now on trial for the fourth time, he has been acting polite and speaking calmly about his “work.” At one point on the fifth day, Högel smirked and winked at his lawyer, shaking his head at the complicated wording of the prosecutor’s question, “Man, man, maaan.”

“He is not remorseful, he is angry that he has messed up his life,” Christian Marbach, a spokesperson for relatives, tells The Daily Beast. “It’s only about him.”

OLDENBURG, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 21:  Niels Högel, the nurse already serving a lifetime sentence for two murders,  sits next to his lawyer Kirsten Hufken in the courtroom during his latest trial, this time accused of 99 further murders, at the Weser-Ems-Halle on November 21, 2018 in Oldenburg, Germany. Högel served as a nurse at hospitals in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg between 1999 and 2005 where he was convicted in 2016 of having killed two patients and attempted to kill two more by administering them deadly doses of substances. Since then investigators have exhumed hundreds of bodies and in this latest trial the court is charging him with having killed 99 more patients. Högel previously admitted that his motive was to administer drugs to induce heart failure, then to intervene to reanimate the patients and be seen as a hero. Should he be convicted he will become Germany's most notorious serial murderer in post-World War II history. (Photo by Mohssen Assanimoghaddam - Pool/Getty Images) © 2018 Getty Images OLDENBURG, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 21: Niels Högel, the nurse already serving a lifetime sentence for two murders, sits next to his lawyer Kirsten Hufken in the courtroom during his latest trial, this time accused of 99 further murders, at the Weser-Ems-Halle on November 21, 2018 in Oldenburg, Germany. Högel served as a nurse at hospitals in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg between 1999 and 2005 where he was convicted in 2016 of having killed two patients and attempted to kill two more by administering them deadly doses of substances. Since then investigators have exhumed hundreds of bodies and in this latest trial the court is charging him with having killed 99 more patients. Högel previously admitted that his motive was to administer drugs to induce heart failure, then to intervene to reanimate the patients and be seen as a hero. Should he be convicted he will become Germany's most notorious serial murderer in post-World War II history. (Photo by Mohssen Assanimoghaddam - Pool/Getty Images) Marbach began writing letters to Högel around three years ago, to encourage him to come clean. In 2015, Högel was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Marbach’s grandfather, who had been recovering from stomach surgery when Högel crossed his path. During that trial, Högel confessed to having poisoned 30 more of his patients and a new investigation was launched.

29 October 2018, Lower Saxony, Delmenhorst: An old sign points to the Delmenhorst Clinic. The trial against Niels Högel begins on 30 October at the District Court of Oldenburg. The public prosecutor's office has accused the former nurse of murdering 100 patients at clinics in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa (Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images) © Copyright 2018, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten 29 October 2018, Lower Saxony, Delmenhorst: An old sign points to the Delmenhorst Clinic. The trial against Niels Högel begins on 30 October at the District Court of Oldenburg. The public prosecutor's office has accused the former nurse of murdering 100 patients at clinics in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa (Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images) This time, Marbach says, there is some satisfaction that he even “engaged” by reading through the medical files of his alleged victims and responding to questions about each case. Still, Marbach says, “We don’t believe him.”

Now for a political twist as cynical as the serial killings are sick:

In Germany’s police crime statistics for 2016 and 2017, there was a substantial increase in the number of murder victims and victims of attempted murders. The increase was overwhelmingly thank to Niels Högel’s late confession and to one other man: Andreas Lubitz, the 28-year-old Germanwings co-pilot with suicidal tendencies and a “not fit to work” doctor’s note, who deliberately crashed a plane with 149 people on board into the French Alps in 2015.

Relatives and friends of victims walk on the Col in Le Vernet, southwestern France, on March 24, 2016, in front of the mountain (background) were the plane of Germanwings crashed a year ago, to mark the first anniversary of the Germanwings tragedy in which a suicidal pilot crashed a plane into a mountainside, killing all 150 on board.The ill-fated plane took off from Barcelona and was headed to Dusseldorf in Germany when German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, 27, drove it into the ground on March 24, 2015 © BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images Relatives and friends of victims walk on the Col in Le Vernet, southwestern France, on March 24, 2016, in front of the mountain (background) were the plane of Germanwings crashed a year ago, to mark the first anniversary of the Germanwings tragedy in which a suicidal pilot crashed a plane into a mountainside, killing all 150 on board.The ill-fated plane took off from Barcelona and was headed to Dusseldorf in Germany when German co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, 27, drove it into the ground on March 24, 2015 But Niels Högel and Andreas Lubitz are not names that Beatrix von Storch—the deputy leader of Germany’s main opposition party, the nativist AfD—mentioned when she tried to defend President Donald Trump’s tweets from July last year which claimed “Crime in Germany is way up” because of Germany’s 2015 open-door policy towards migrants. A few days later, a BBC Newsnight anchor confronted von Storch with Germany’s 2017 police statistics, which showed that crime in Germany was at a 25 year low. “Murders and rapes are still increasing,” von Storch replied.

And even before that, von Storch posted misleading information on social media about how Germany’s police statistics, compared to 2014, show an increase in “murders, homicides.”  Never mind that one limitation to these murder stats is that police officers are more likely to charge someone who commits a violent crime with attempted murder (instead of grievous bodily harm) if they are an asylum seeker who doesn’t speak German — because, unlike the courts, the police often won’t have a a translator.

Let’s get back to Högel’s hospitals.

29 October 2018, Lower Saxony, Delmenhorst: A commemorative plaque for victims of the nurse Niels Högel. The trial against Niels Högel begins on 30 October at the District Court of Oldenburg. The public prosecutor's office has accused the former nurse of murdering 100 patients at clinics in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa (Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images) © Copyright 2018, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten 29 October 2018, Lower Saxony, Delmenhorst: A commemorative plaque for victims of the nurse Niels Högel. The trial against Niels Högel begins on 30 October at the District Court of Oldenburg. The public prosecutor's office has accused the former nurse of murdering 100 patients at clinics in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa (Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images) Even doctors with excellent reputations have three minutes per patient and in a badly managed ward the tone can get rough. (A med student in Berlin recently witnessed a cardiologist enter the room of a person he described earlier as having “below room temperature IQ” and joke to that patient’s face: “It’s pretty cold in here, huh?”)

Högel is not the first caregiver in Germany to murder the people he attended. Irene Becker, a nurse in Berlin,  murdered seven of her patients. In southern Germany, a nurse called Stephen Letter killed 28. On trial, his lawyer argued that Letter had been motivated by compassion for his patients, many of whom were seriously ill and suffering. The judge disagreed, but considered Letter’s method—he gave them an anesthetic and then suffocated them with muscle relaxant—to be “considerate.”

Högel, it is clear, was not motivated by compassion. Some of his victims were conscious when he made his move. He described one patient as a “whale” and, in this trial, said he thought the hyper-detached attitude of some of his superiors was “cool.”

29 October 2018, Lower Saxony, Delmenhorst: View of the former clinic Delmenhorst (today Josef-Hospital Delmenhorst). The trial against Niels Högel begins on 30 October at the District Court of Oldenburg. The public prosecutor's office has accused the former nurse of murdering 100 patients at clinics in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa (Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images) © Copyright 2018, dpa (www.dpa.de). Alle Rechte vorbehalten 29 October 2018, Lower Saxony, Delmenhorst: View of the former clinic Delmenhorst (today Josef-Hospital Delmenhorst). The trial against Niels Högel begins on 30 October at the District Court of Oldenburg. The public prosecutor's office has accused the former nurse of murdering 100 patients at clinics in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg. Photo: Julian Stratenschulte/dpa (Photo by Julian Stratenschulte/picture alliance via Getty Images) In the second and last hospital where Högel worked, one woman who survived Högel’s needle told doctors the next day that a man with dark hair and a “cauliflower ear” (Högel’s right ear is permanently swollen) had given her an infusion before her heart stopped working. But no one listened to her. And Högel came to her bed again to tell her not to be afraid because she was in a hospital.

That wasn’t the only time that Högel’s workplace actively neglected to stop him. At Högel’s first hospital, they wrote him a very good letter of recommendation to get rid of him after a chief doctor refused to let him work in his ward. The staff gossiped about “Niels and his dark shadow,” because so many patients had died on Högel’s watch. But getting the police involved would have been bad publicity. (The state attorney is currently pursuing criminal cases against former staff members of both facilities.)

And when the cops questioned Högel for the first time in 2005, they did not even ask him if he was drunk, even though Högel claims that he was, and that “the whole room stank of booze.”

In a 2018 radio show for Deutschlandfunk, a nurse and former colleague emphasized that back in the early aughts, Högel used to be “slim.. slender”, and “rated by women.” These days, however, Högel looks like a sick hamster in an Adidas training jacket.

OLDENBURG, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 22:  Niels Högel, the nurse already serving a lifetime sentence for two murders, sits in the courtroom during the third day of his latest trial, this time accused of 99 further murders, at the Weser-Ems-Halle on November 22, 2018 in Oldenburg, Germany. Högel served as a nurse at hospitals in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg between 1999 and 2005 where he was convicted in 2016 of having killed two patients and attempted to kill two more by administering them deadly doses of substances. Since then investigators have exhumed hundreds of bodies and in this latest trial the court is charging him with having killed 99 more patients. Högel previously admitted that his motive was to administer drugs to induce heart failure, then to intervene to reanimate the patients and be seen as a hero. Should he be convicted he will become Germany's most notorious serial murderer in post-World War II history. (Photo by Mohssen Assanimoghaddam - Pool/Getty Images) © 2018 Getty Images OLDENBURG, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 22: Niels Högel, the nurse already serving a lifetime sentence for two murders, sits in the courtroom during the third day of his latest trial, this time accused of 99 further murders, at the Weser-Ems-Halle on November 22, 2018 in Oldenburg, Germany. Högel served as a nurse at hospitals in Delmenhorst and Oldenburg between 1999 and 2005 where he was convicted in 2016 of having killed two patients and attempted to kill two more by administering them deadly doses of substances. Since then investigators have exhumed hundreds of bodies and in this latest trial the court is charging him with having killed 99 more patients. Högel previously admitted that his motive was to administer drugs to induce heart failure, then to intervene to reanimate the patients and be seen as a hero. Should he be convicted he will become Germany's most notorious serial murderer in post-World War II history. (Photo by Mohssen Assanimoghaddam - Pool/Getty Images)

Last month in the Oldenburg concert hall, while Högel mused about his “low self-esteem” and about how his life got “so paradoxical”—when murder left him feeling “indifferent” but he kept killing because he was “longing for the end”—a spectator in the front row jerked and swayed, as if about to fall asleep.

Such is the banality and the boredom of evil.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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